Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.
HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
The “relaxation response” is your body’s natural reaction against the negative effects of stress; it shuts off the “stress response” when the need for it is over. Recent research has shown that the relaxation response can decrease the harmful effects of chronic stress even at the gene level. Learn about your body’s natural stress and relaxation responses, when they are and aren’t helpful, and how to control them when their natural operations fail in HPRC’s “Influence Your Body’s Stress & Relaxation Responses.”
March is National Nutrition Month, and it reminds us about the importance of healthy eating. The theme this year is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” HPRC receives many questions that ask what the best supplements are for weight loss, bodybuilding, and enhancing performance. Our message is always the same: Focus on food first. Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has educational resources to help spread this message, including our “Real Food” poster and “Nutrition: Fueled for Fitness” brochure. Be sure to visit OPSS for infosheets, videos, and other educational materials for Warfighters, healthcare providers, and family members.
March is National Nutrition Month®, a month-long education campaign sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to promote healthy eating. This year’s theme is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” It focuses on how healthy eating and tasty food go hand-in-hand. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website provides lots of great tips, tools, and resources to help you develop healthy, tasty meals for you and your family. Also, visit HPRC’s Family Nutrition section for additional resources.
The wounds of war also affect the family members of injured or ill Warfighters. The job of caregiving often falls to a family member, and while it can be a rewarding job, it can also be stressful. Taking time for yourself is important. You run the risk of burnout when your attention is directed solely towards others without time to recharge. Below are tips to help you find balance in taking care of both your loved one and yourself.
- View caregiving as if it were a team sport, not a solo one. Get other people to share the responsibilities.
- Encourage independence by supporting your loved one to do as much as possible for him/herself.
- Take a pro-active and positive perspective.
- Have a take-charge attitude for problems, and then reframe those problems into challenges.
- Avoid tunnel vision; find a balance between taking care of your injured loved one and taking care of yourself and others in the family.
- Create a care plan for yourself that includes fun time, down time, and relaxation methods. For some ideas, check out the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website.
- Seek professional help when needed.
For more information, read this handout on “Coping with Caregiver Challenges,“ which addresses common caregiver challenges such as stress and symptoms such as headaches and then suggests ideas for coping. Other strategies include keeping yourself healthy with exercise, rest, and eating well. For more ideas, check out the Traumatic Brain Injury website’s “Stress Busters” section. Building your stress-management skills can be a big help. Finally, assess yourself regularly to check on your well-being (to prevent burnout) can also be helpful. You can find assessments for caregiver stress at Afterdeployment.org (online) and Traumatic Brain Injury (for download).
Carbohydrates provide our bodies with energy. “Good” carbohydrates—usually the complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—have more fiber. They also contain vitamins and minerals. “Bad carbs” include refined carbohydrates—foods made with white flour—and processed foods with added sugars. To find out more about eating the good carbs, read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on carbohydrates.
How we interpret events or interactions has a big impact on how we react to them. We all fall victim to “thinking traps” from time to time, and HPRC’s recent article identifies common traps and suggests strategies for dealing with them. Your personal relationships are particularly prone to thinking traps that can lead you to draw false conclusions. For example, let’s say you’ve been married for some time now and recently find yourself thinking your partner doesn’t love you any more because she/he no longer says so.
One way to address this kind of thinking trap is to ask yourself—or have a friend ask you—questions that make you think about the reasoning or evidence behind what you’re thinking. Some examples are:
- What specifically makes you think that he/she doesn’t love you any more?
- What did he/she do in the past that made you feel loved?
- Are there any other possible explanations that might explain your partner’s behavior, such as job stress, an ailing parent, children acting out, or recent return from deployment?
- When you think back to the beginning of your relationship, how could you tell he/she loved you? Was it something (s)he said? Or what (s)he did?
- Has your behavior toward him/her changed recently?
Such questions can get you to start thinking logically by taking a close look at what’s behind what you’re thinking—the real evidence and surroundings of the situation. Sometimes it can help you gain perspective to write down the answers to these questions. Once you’ve gone through this self-questioning process, it’s possible you’ll find a different interpretation of your partner’s behavior. Maybe you were just caught up in a thinking trap.
For more ideas on strengthening your relationship, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section. And for specific strategies on changing your relationship dynamic, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategy on Couples Communication.
Hypnosis is a trance-like state produced from a heightened sense of focus and concentration. Like other mind-body strategies, hypnosis can sometimes provide temporary pain relief for many pain conditions. Learn more about what hypnosis is, the research on what pain conditions it can help, things to be aware of, and its relevance to the military in HPRC’s “Hypnosis for Pain.”
Warfighters who eat a variety of fruits and vegetables are more likely to be at their optimal weight and less likely to develop diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. But it can be hard to find a “rainbow” of fresh foods when it’s cold and gray outside and the summer farmers’ markets and roadside stands are months away. Fresh fruits and vegetables, while a great choice, can be expensive in winter and can spoil quickly, making it hard to keep them on hand. Frozen fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, might be just the ticket to make sure you get plenty of these nutritious powerhouses in your diet. Here’s why:
- Nutrition. The nutrient content of frozen fruits and vegetables is comparable to that of fresh ones. That’s because frozen fruits and vegetables are processed at their peak ripeness, while fresh ones might be eaten when they are either under- or over-ripe, when nutrient content is generally sub-par. (There are a few exceptions, though. The processing of frozen “cruciferous” vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts destroys important enzymes that give them their disease-fighting capability. Opt for fresh versions of these veggies, and steam them lightly or eat them raw.) When purchasing frozen vegetables, choose versions without added salt and with minimal processing such as chopping or dicing for highest nutritional value.
- Cost. Although fresh fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper when they’re in season, their frozen cousins are your best bet in the off-season. If you’re on a budget, resist the temptation to purchase those meal-in-a-bag concoctions containing meats and/or rich sauces, though. You pay twice: first for the convenience and second for the calories. Instead, prepare frozen veggies in your microwave according to the cooking directions on the package. If you add some lean protein such as chicken or tofu, some spices, and a side of whole grains, you’ll have the makings of a great meal.
- Availability. The best thing about frozen fruits and vegetables is that they’re right there in your freezer. You can stock up on your favorites when they’re on sale and have a ready supply every time you cook—no excuses. Use them within three months of purchase, though, for optimal quality.
Fresh or frozen, fruits and vegetables are essential for optimal performance. Be sure you get enough every day.
Not only is exercise good for the body, it’s good for the mind. The expert consensus from the International Society of Sport Psychology is that exercise can increase your sense of well-being and help reduce anxiety, tension, and depression.
For veterans coping with depression, PTSD, or other mental-health issues, sports and exercise may be a great way to relieve stress. Scientists have shown the positive benefits of physical activity on symptoms of depression in veterans. What’s more, Veterans’ Administration studies have found that physical activity—especially vigorous activity—can decrease the risk of PTSD among Warfighters. The opposite is also true: Veterans who do not engage in physical activity are more likely to experience PTSD. Several organizations specialize in physical activity and exercise for warriors and their families, but you can always try a yoga class, a family bike ride, or other fitness opportunities in your community.
Getting motivated to exercise and stay active can be especially difficult for those suffering from PTSD and depression. Here are some tips to help you get up and get out the door.
- Make a date with yourself. Put it on your calendar or set a daily alarm—whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you’ve set aside some time for you to exercise. And don’t stand yourself up!
- Set a SMART goal and write it down. Post it on your bathroom mirror, your fridge, your car dashboard—wherever you’ll see it daily to remind yourself of what you want to accomplish.
- Recruit friends or family members to help. Telling people what your goals are is a great way to stay accountable. An exercise partner is especially helpful when you need that extra nudge to get off the couch and start moving.
- Keep a journal. Record your exercise activities and how you felt afterwards. While you may not feel better after every workout, you probably will most of the time. Being able to go back and read/remember how good exercise made you feel may motivate you for the next workout.
As we’ve highlighted before, pets bring special benefits to their humans. But is there a “logical” explanation for why the human-animal connection is so rewarding? Some scientists think that physical contact with your pet (especially a dog)—such as stroking or holding the animal on your lap—as well as having a relationship with that animal (that is, knowing and caring for the pet) are two components that make the owner-pet relationship therapeutic. It appears that these can lead to an increase in a “feel-good” hormone (oxytocin) in humans. (Check out last week’s post to learn about oxytocin and its impact on human relationships.) As little as five minutes of stroking a dog can result in a measurable increase in oxytocin levels. While it works for most people with any animal, the effect is stronger if the animal is one’s own pet. In fact, the closer the relationship (including affectionate behavior), the more oxytocin is released. Researchers caution, though, that this effect doesn’t work in those who don’t like animals, a finding that needs more research.